Philippines: Youth active in disaster preparedness

After Typhoon Washi hit the Philippines in 2011, many communities began participating in World Vision's child-focused disaster risk reduction training.

Now, in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan, widely reported to be the strongest tropical cyclone in history, our prayers go out to the people of the Philippines, hoping that advance training and emergency plans will help mitigate the destruction left by this storm.

Aaron Aspi, communicator for World Vision in the Philippines, describes last summer's disaster risk-reduction training.

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Summer vacation was almost over. Vannie, 14, and her sister Vida, 11, faced the new school year with a broader concern for their peers and community.

A few days before school started, the sisters met with fellow young people from neighboring villages to share their experience in World Vision’s child-focused disaster risk reduction (CFDRR) training held in the province of Agusan del Sur in Mindanao.

Vannie, a sponsored child, is an active leader on her school’s student council, and Vida is a budding science whiz kid. They took an interest in local CFDRR initiatives after seeing the floods getting worse year after year.

Community members from the villages of San Teodoro and Libertad participated in the training. Through various activities, participants discovered the risks and vulnerabilities in their communities. Some showcased their creativity through flip-chart presentations and colorful illustrations that represented how they make sense of their surroundings.

Luz Mendoza, World Vision humanitarian and emergency affairs worker, shares, “The initiative was born out of the need to integrate child participation in promoting disaster risk reduction. The children who are the most vulnerable during disasters should be able to understand and take active part in building community resilience in the face of alarming disasters.”

When Typhoon Washi hit Mindanao last year, Agusan del Sur was among the provinces along the destructive trail of the typhoon. Heavy rains and floods from the Agusan marsh overflowed into nearby communities and farmlands, destroying crops and livelihoods.

Jocelyn, a church youth leader from Libertad, recalls her experience. “Most parts of our community were flooded and we were left stranded in our homes. Only those with boats were able to get food,” she says.

The people of San Teodoro, located on higher ground, had an evacuation plan ready, but the typhoon changed course toward its neighboring village, Libertad.

“Libertad was submerged for weeks, and we had to wait for the waters to subside before we could resume classes,” Jocelyn recounts.

Since Typhoon Washi, residents have taken disaster preparedness seriously. Village chief Cipriano Dique Jr. shares, “We emphasize the importance of preparedness. Village houses are repaired for leaks and farmers check on their family’s food supplies for buffer. We also encourage families to have vegetable gardens as these would help augment food shortage during floods.”

Franklyn Salindato, World Vision’s program officer in Agusan del Sur, says, “Agusan del Sur has already identified flood-prone areas as part of the preparedness plan. The local government units have deployed a team to monitor the water level of the river. We also keep in touch with our community leaders for updates."

“After checking water levels in the river, we ensure that the evacuation centers are ready as we face threats of heavy rains. We use the church bells for early warning, and boats are on standby to evacuate people and transport much needed goods,” Dique adds. His boat is among those that are dispatched for rescue and relief operations.

Junita Ayala gets her family's water supply from a deep well in her yard. She filters and boils the water before drinking. This well gets contaminated and becomes unsafe to use during floods. (Photo: 2012 Aaron Aspi/World Vision)

Junita Ayala, a community partner in the area, explains, “Clean water supply is scarce during the floods. We only rely on water wells in our backyard and it takes two to three weeks for the wells to clear up.”

Community efforts to install rain collectors in critical areas have helped alleviate water shortages. A rain collector can store up to 2800 liters of clean water, enough for about 100 households, per day. Clean water helps maintain sanitation and hygiene and keeps people’s health from deteriorating.

Village health worker Windelyn Numancia relates that waterborne diseases are common during floods, especially among children, because of unsafe drinking water. “Children in flood-prone areas suffer from stomach aches, cough, and fever. Dengue cases usually shoot up during rainy days and can be worsened as flood waters turn into mosquito breeding grounds."

“Anti-dengue cleanup drives in schools are supported by local officials and parents who volunteer to help with the upkeep of the school grounds. It is also important to teach children proper hand-washing to keep diseases from spreading. During floods we also advise families to thoroughly clean their food and to use clean water in cooking,” Numancia adds.

Vannie, Vida, and the rest of the youth participants from Libertad and San Teodoro shared their vision of their community at the end of the training. Vannie says, “It feels good to realize that we have a voice as we build a community that is prepared whenever a disaster strikes.”

Vida adds, “I will definitely share what I learned here to my schoolmates and friends, and we’ll initiate our own CFDRR activities in the future.”

World Vision is assessing the damage and preparing to launch a response in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan -- the biggest and most dangerous storm this year and widely regarded as one of the strongest in recorded history. The greatest needs for storm survivors will be emergency food and clean water. We will also assist with rebuilding, as many homes and much of the farm land was destroyed in the storm. Make a one-time donation to our Philippines Disaster Response Fund.

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